What a year it has been! From beginning to end 2015 produced enough movies to sate the most energetic moviegoer, and did it with finesse. To get the top of the crop you have to look at the entire year and not just the films let loose in the final days of the year, and that is a good thing. So let's take a look backward and see what was the best the year had to offer.
10. THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL - The original film introduced a superb cast of mostly "senior" actors, and the sequel brought back most of the survivors. Who can't enjoy watching dueling dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith sparking a story of love and fulfillment. You also had the addition of Richard Gere to the mix and he fit in perfectly. This is a movie that entertained when it was first released and gets better with each successive viewing.
9. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD - Thomas Hardy's classic novel was once again used as the basis for a potent love story. Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts were the star -crossed lovers who struggled against all odds to find each other. Set in the Victorian era the look of the film was as important as the story and the craftspersons involved did a magnificent job.
8. THE MARTIAN - Andy Weir's novel of the same name provided the starting point for this very successful film. Director Ridley Scott managed to keep the intensity of a man stranded on Mars, but also let audiences relax and laugh with the exploits of Matt Damon as the stranded man. The supporting cast on this one was huge and each person served a vital function. Still Damon stood tall above the rest and made the movie his own.
7. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON - Who would have thought a movie detailing the rise of the hip hop group NWA could make such an impressive film! But it did. The actors, the story, the era - all managed to make this a movie you couldn't help but like. It was violent, it was profane, it was raw and bold. Most of all it was solid moviemaking of the best kind.
6. ME & EARL &THE DYING GIRL - Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke created three totally unique characters in a movie that was everything a popular movie shouldn't be. It had no big name stars; its story concerned a dying girl; there was no breakout performance. Still for those few who saw the film it was an uplifting treat. You left the theater feeling better about humanity in general than you did when you entered.
5. BRIDGE OF SPIES - Everyone expected this movie to be special since it was directed by Stephen Spielberg and starred Tom Hanks, and it was. Both men were at the top of their game in this story about the prisoner of war swap between Russia and the United States during the Cold War. The added cherry on top of it all was Mark Rylance's performance as the Russian spy swapped for U-2 pilot Gary Powers. All in all a relevant movie that earned its entertainment stripes.
4. The H8TEFUL EIGHT - Quentin Tarantino did all his Tarantino tricks and they paid off one more time. He filled his story with racial bigots; he overused the N-word; he featured violence towards women; he saturated the screen in violence and gore. This should have been his biggest flop but instead will probably be one of his biggest hits because he did it all with unique skill and attention to detail. The movie soars where it should sink and entertains where it should bore. It is shocking and funny and amazingly entertaining. You aren't proud you enjoy it but somewhere deep inside you just do.
3. THE DANISH GIRL - The combination of the acting talent of stars Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander with the directorial skills of Tom Hooper make this film fascinating. They tell the story of a man who believes he should be a woman, and does everything he can to become a woman despite being totally in love with his wife. It is an amazingly poignant and touching story that leaves audiences reflecting on love between souls and not bodies.
2. SPOTLIGHT - Featuring the best ensemble cast of the year, this movie harkens back to "All the President's Men" in that it features a newspaper team searching for truths about a scandal. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams are just three of the actors who play pivotal roles in the expose'. This is one of those rare movies when you know how it ends going in, and you are still held enthralled.
1. MR. HOLMES - This film proves you don't have to spend a zillion dollars to make something truly great, you just need true talent on screen and a good story. The talent in this movie was provided by young actor Milo Parker, the incomparable Laura Linney, and the infinitely talented Ian McKellan. Every word spoken on the screen, every situation presented, every relationship dissected is near perfection. McKellan has always been a great actor but in this film he outdoes his past performances with this huge gem in his acting crown.
So there you have the list of my favorites. I am sure you have a list of your own, and it is just as valid. After all we are each critics only by reason that we have an opinion.
JACKIE K COOPER